Here is a detailed history of The Mess Hall which later became known as TrekPulse…
The Mess Hall began as a simple free discussion board. When I was about 18, a company called Xsorbit was offering free discussion board signups so I thought I would give it a try. I created a board and called it The Mess Hall BBS. The aim was to create a Star Trek fan discussion forum and since the Mess Hall is a place where the crew gathers in Star Trek, it seemed a fitting name for the board. I was still in school at the time and so had limited finances to work with. We promoted The Mess Hall BBS on other boards and chat rooms and before long we had several members. This free service was not without its problems… Various technical issues caused the loss of our board and we had to setup another one on Xsorbit. This set us back slightly, especially with our low member base. However, we kept pressing forward and before long, we had almost 140 members.
A Taste Of What Was To Come
I continued playing around with Websites and decided that the BBS needed a small website to accompany it. I chose a free web space service offered by a company called Tripod. They offered 50mbs with popup ads but it was the best free hosting that I could find. The Internet was a very different thing 10 years ago. By this stage I was very familiar with the value of having a Discussion Policy so I added various rules to the website as well as information on ranks, usage, etc. for members to read up on.
After some time, I decided that I wanted to expand further into a general Star Trek website. The web site was to be called The Mess Hall and was also initially located on Tripod. I was, however, severely limited as to the amount of useable web space so I was very careful to use it sparingly. I added images, downloads, episode guides without reviews, etc… to get started. This site didn’t have much of a lifespan though…
When the time came for Enterprise to air, I added an Enterprise section to the site. I figured that others had done a greater job than I with the existing shows but once Enterprise aired it gave me the chance to try something new from the same starting line. The new show gave me more motivation to work on the site and before long it was suggested that I break it out into an Enterprise only site so I scrapped the old basic site and was underway. Initially the site contained only episode details, images and clips but several weeks later I found an episode reviewer and was well underway. The site eventually launched. I was very pleased with the results. Keeping with tradition, the website was called ‘The Mess Hall – Enterprise’. It started to become popular pretty quickly.
Meanwhile, The Mess Hall BBS was failing to attract or keep many members as Xsorbit began to place more ads, including popup ads, on the BBS and also introduced new ‘Subscriptions charges’. This required that I pay for a greater service without ads or continue without technical support and now accept banner, sidebar and footer ads. This was not an appealing option and, of course, I couldn’t afford to pay for the subscription but alas, I was forced to deal with the ads for a while.
A Much Needed Helping Hand
The Enterprise site was also in trouble at this point. I had only 3mb of remaining web space and no more to use for clips. Luckily, a friend of mine ran a website called the SSF (Starfleet Strategic Strike Force). It was a Star Trek Role Play by Email site. He very kindly suggested that they may be able to offer web space for free. I contacted them and they agreed to host my excess files. I was delighted. After months of searching for better hosting options, I finally had the chance I was looking for. The SSF also agreed to host my BBS. The members of course were ecstatic to move to a more stable location with better options. We installed an ikonboard discussion board which was light years ahead in terms of features.
After about a month or two I was asked if I would like to have my site hosted on the SSF web space and I graciously accepted. I was given ftp access and moved my site immediately. Within a day or two, it was setup and my site started to receive the attention I hoped for (with thanks to the SSF who had an existing member base).
Soon afterwards, a former owner of the SSF retired and I was offered co-ownership. We later moved to our own dedicated web server (from a shared hosting site with 3000mb) with a capacity of 60gb. This was enough of a capacity to allow all of our sites to grow without fear of boundaries. The site continued with much success collecting further collaborators and support as time went on.
There was no stopping the growth. In September 2002, The Mess Hall – Enterprise site was ‘upgraded’ to TrekPulse, our most ambitious project yet… TrekPulse boasted a brand new design (with thanks to our newest staff member Mike Broadhead). While the initial TrekPulse site was built from the Mess Hall – Enterprise content, we had greater ambitions to add further sections. A Main section was setup to become the ‘Home’ site hosting information about TrekPulse, its staff, its awards and general site news. Over the course of the next 2-3 years, more sections were added including Movies, Voyager, TNG, DS9, TOS and Gaming. We received more and more attention, members, fans and family members.
The Bad Times
The Mess Hall ran from 2000 and TrekPulse thrived from 2002 to 2005. As a young Webmaster I was still gaining experience with Web technologies. I was a student with limited time and before long I was working Part Time to support myself through college. In its infancy, The Mess Hall was supported by free web services and soon afterwards by the kindness of friends with resources but, as the site grew whilst being hosted by the SSF it became evident that we were utilizing most of their resources. In fact, The Mess Hall/TrekPulse was a major reason behind the SSF upgrades to a few new hosting packages before finally seeking Dedicated Server hosting. TrekPulse was transforming into a site specializing in Media. This meant that we needed more storage space and that we created a huge amount of traffic. As the hit counts went up, so too inevitably would the ‘gas bill’.
The early SSF hosting period was not without its problems. Although Scott and Jeremy had a decent shared hosting package, the site faced a lot of down time. Web hosting services back then were a lot less reliable than they are today. The SSF was often hacked resulting in server down time on each occasion. TrekPulse became an innocent victim in these attacks and more often than not had to rely upon hard drive backups to restore the site. Much of these restorations were performed during college hours and from internet cafes (as I had only dialup internet at home). When Scott left the SSF I was asked to help with the co-ownership. Jeremy and a couple of others needed financial assistance to keep things running and since TrekPulse was sucking their hosting resources it seemed only fair that I help out. I started to contribute monthly dollars to pay the bills as early as the year 2000. The monthly payments were affordable at that time but, due to personal problems, Jeremy would eventually leave the SSF. In fact, The SSF was eventually shut down but I kept the hosting going.
I, along with another college friend, then tried our hand at running some web hosting services for local companies near our college. This brought in some additional funding and, of course, the sites were hosted within the same server as TrekPulse. Thankfully, by living at home and commuting to college I managed to allocate a lot of my time and finances to TrekPulse management.
The trouble with hosting a site as large as TrekPulse became is that it relied on more ‘advanced’ hosting packages. The shared hosting offered by these companies was far too limited to support our growth. It should be noted at this point that the cost of dedicated hosting was about $100 per month. While TrekPulse solicited members for donations to support our site I, unfortunately, did not receive much ($50-80 in total). My friend Karl helped to fund the site hosting on many occasions but ultimately we went on without too many financial glitches.
The danger in using a dedicated server for hosting a website is that you need to be very familiar with server management. I was a stranger to this area in my early days and this led to much frustration when we were hacked a number of times. I tried to count the number of times that the site was taken offline (sometimes for days) but I can’t recall. I believe it must have been at least 4-5 times. Regardless, we always painstakingly restored the site from backups. After each hack I worked hard to install firewalls and settings to adequately protect the site to no avail in most cases…
Technology experience proved to be a challenge during the management of the site but another challenge was the site itself. TrekPulse was held together by HTML, CSS and various scripts and the site was growing too fast for us to keep up with the manual changes needed to sustain it. We had to come up with more and more inventive ways to keep the site together with scripts, each time being aimed at reducing the amount of work required. For example, at one point the menu system was hard coded into every single page. When it came to change a link we had to manually update every single page. You can only imagine how time consuming this task was, especially since the site was forever growing. I managed to ‘borrow’ a script design from a friend’s site which allowed us to store the menu in a text file on the server which would then be loaded by each page. This was a miracle which offered one small victory for our sanity but still shows just a small glimpse into just how much manual work the site actually required.
Finally, I reached out to a friend of a friend who was familiar with Web Design and asked him to develop a Content Management System for TrekPulse. This would essentially be built from the existing format but allow us to add new articles, pages and general content via a simple control panel. This was exactly what we needed. The estimated cost of this was about €500 (about $800). He worked very hard on it but unfortunately the CMS could never be used. I reluctantly paid €300 for his efforts and time spent but TrekPulse closed shortly afterwards…
TrekPulse reached its peak in 2005. At that time were averaging a few hundred thousand hits per month. Our total count being well in the millions. TrekPulse had a great team of dedicated staff members working in all aspects of the site including design, forum moderation, fan fiction, reviews, updates, gaming, research and screen caps. In any environment where a large group of people work closely together there will always be politics. The same was true for TrekPulse. It was evident that a divide was forming in terms of the site command structure but it was also taking place in terms of the TrekPulse overall direction. It was an unpleasant period for the site and one which added further stress to our commitment. During this time I had other real life commitments as well. My close uncle had passed and I was in the midst of moving to Dublin to start a full time job (eventually moving to a night shift). My interaction with TrekPulse was sometimes brief but I managed the background as always. My interaction with the TrekPulse staff at this time however allowed visual snippets into its potentially crumbling structure.
The reasons behind the TrekPulse closure apparently remains a source of debate among former staff and fans. I was about 23-24 at the time and had somehow managed to continually push my luck with the MPAA. However, I ultimately received a call from a man identifying himself as a representative of Paramount Pictures, he went on to highlight the various ways in which TrekPulse had infracted upon their intellectual properties. His call was to serve as a warning but with the warning it was required that certain steps be taken to correct these infringements. These steps essentially involved removing all forms of media from the TrekPulse site. Those who knew TrekPulse will remember that TrekPulse was essentially a giant Star Trek media site and therefore, it was obvious that this type of action would reduce TrekPulse to almost nothing. I didn’t want to see this happen to the site (after all, there were many more sites out there with similar infractions). I had heard of MPAA cease and desist letters but had never received one. The call was certainly enough to frighten me but I don’t highlight it as the main reason for closing TrekPulse, it was merely one of many factors.
As you have read from the above, the management of TrekPulse throughout the years proved to be a stressful and trying time. The costs continued to increase and I continued pay these alone. This coupled with the weight of the site’s management proved a heavy burden on my shoulders. Furthermore, a rift was also forming within the site which I felt would ultimately tear it apart. With a heavy heart, I announced the closure of TrekPulse in 2005 citing the MPAA intervention as a reason. I still reflect on how things might gone been had they been different. I felt that the overall direction of the site was diverting away from its original origin and transforming instead into a media intensive catalog.
The former staff members of TrekPulse banded together to form TrekCore which essentially used and continued on with the work of the TrekPulse team. I still feel saddened by the closure of TrekPulse which was something very important and dear to me but I remain comforted by the fact that the community continued to live on. I wish TrekCore the best for the future.
Truthfully, I started to reminisce a lot about the old days of TrekPulse. There was once a dream to create a Star Trek site. I felt that this dream went wayward being challenged by a multitude of issues. When I started looking back at the old TrekPulse days a week ago I mostly remembered the good times. Reality sunk in shortly afterwards and everything else came flooding back.. I still look to the good times and my reasons for setting up the Mess Hall so long ago, and will cling to that because that humble beginning is what created TrekPulse. Without aiming to sound too cheesy, I’ve chosen to embrace the bad times. To learn from them and move on.
Welcome to the revival of TrekPulse. Long may it last.
Thanks Go Out To…
I also wish to acknowledge the help of many people, without their support TrekPulse would have never amounted to anything. I’d like to make a special call out to Annie Hall (for keeping me sane), Scott Ballinger & Jeremy Cummings (for saving the Mess Hall), Mike Broadhead, Adam Walker, Litsa Guevara, Trevor Van Wert, Peter McDuff and Karl Lavin… TrekPulse remains your legacy…
Rob Gallagher (Updated July 2011)